“There is one lawgiver…”
“For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord… But why dost thou judge thy brother?… for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ… So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
“For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
Only as far as God’s natural, moral and positive laws bind antecedently
in the situation itself, and no further.
That the Mere Will, Determination, Judgment or Saying So of Authorities is an Insufficient Ground of Faith & Obedience, & that Authorities are Never to Act or Require Something without a Naturally, Morally or Spiritually Sufficient Reason, & that Manifest to Consciences
Order of Contents
God Only is the One Lawgiver
That the Law Arises out of the Circumstances
That Subjection (Rom. 13:1) does Not Always Entail Obedience
On Godly Subjection to Rulers
If Authorities may Rule only in Accord with God’s Moral Law, how then is this
. More Authority than being Privately Counseled with God’s Moral Law?
On Rulers Erring in Judgment in a Situation with Degrees of Goodness
On Obedience or Resistance to Laws that are Inconvenient
“…but the truth is, neither the king’s judgment [is] as a certain rule to the representative Church, nor [is] the representative Church’s judgment a rule to the king, but the Word of God [is], the infallible rule to both. Judgement may crook; truth cannot bow; it stands still, unmoveable, like God the Father of Truth.”
Due Right, pt. 2, p. 415
Intro & the Significance of the Quote Below by Calvin
It is a popular tenet of evangelicalism that if the civil government makes a law that does not entail a person to sin personally, that it binds the conscience to be obeyed.
It is a popular tenet of Fundamentalism and High Churchism that if a church leader gives a direction remotely within its jurisdiction (for instance: a church meeting is held, therefore one must be at that place, at that time) that one is bound in conscience to observe this, or one is in sin.
Numerous forms of Patriarchalism teach that if a father gives a command to his wife or child, and it does not entail personal sin, that person is in sin if he or she does not obey it.
All of this is not Reformed according to the Word of God, which teaches that “God alone is the Lord of the conscience (James 4:12; Rom. 14:4)” (WCF 20.2), and no human authority.
As Calvin elucidates below, human authorities that wield the authority of God, do so only so far as God has given them express authority in their general ends and designs. That is, the civil magistrate is to uphold good and punish evil, the Church has spiritual power unto the edification of its members, and fathers likewise have authority for the well-being of their family.
Any specific command of human authorities, however, insofar as it entails a given context, history, specifics and detailed circumstances, goes beyond general ends and cannot innately bind persons’ consciences, especially if there are legitimate, justifying moral reasons otherwise, as the Lord has not specifically revealed or imposed his own power with regard to such specifics.
While persons ought to give due weight and honor to human authorities and their commands (per the 5th Commandment), giving them the benefit of the doubt generally speaking (especially in order not to give unnecessary scandal, per the 6th Commandment), and as subjects are bound by the Lord in conscience to fulfilling the ordained general ends of such authorities, yet it is God’s moral and natural law alone, rightly applied to specific circumstances (which ought to be recognized by the conscience), that can bind a person’s conscience so that not to do it is sinful.
While human authorities may enforce their decisions with the power they wield in order to uphold the moral and natural law of God insofar as it appears to them in the sight of men (the external court), especially where sin appears to be inevitably involved, yet no human authority is omniscient and knows all the factors in a situation, nor can they know the thoughts of the heart. Likewise, human authorities are liable to err.
Hence, God (with whom we have to do) must remain the sole Lord of the conscience. On the other hand, “the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also. (Rom. 10:17. Rom. 14:23. Isa. 8:20. Acts 17:11. John 4:22. Hos. 5:11. Rev. 13:12,16,17. Jer. 8:9)” (WCF 20.2)
The quote below by Calvin is significant because it implicitly applies to all human authorities (including the family even though he does not specifically mention the family). It also shows that this teaching regarding human authority in making laws, which would go on to become the standard Reformed doctrine on the subject, was present and being taught from at least shortly after the Reformation.
The writer on this page who most precisely elucidates and answers the issues, in accordance with the truth and the theology of Scripture, we believe, is Samuel Rutherford. He, however, is not always easy to read and digest. William Perkins, the Father of Puritanism, is much easier to read and substantially teaches the same doctrine, though he uses verbally different terms and categories at times.
After reading and digesting the best reformed answers to how far human commands oblige, namely as far as God’s natural and moral law inherently obliges in the situation, and to that extent and degree only, one no longer needs to wonder and be perplexed about the answer to the question; rather, one ought in humble faith and commitment unto God seek to live according to the right answer in all our varied, real life situations, according to God’s will.
Truth is humbling; it means that the entire and frequent inclination of our heart to being a dictator and Pope, especially in the name of authority, and that from God, is a dream, a vain and empty show, and is perverse. We simply are never able to wield more authority or power than that of God’s own moral will, nor were we ever meant to. May Christ save us devilish tyrants, and deliver us from our own cherished, innate evil; and may we, by his Spirit, walk humbly with Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
May God give you light and understanding, and may Christ be your Teacher (Ps. 25:4-5).
“All human laws are, properly speaking, only declaratory.”
Quote by John Calvin
Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Beveridge (Edinburgh, 1846), vol. 3, book 4, ch. 10, section 5, pp. 196-197
“5. Let us now return to human laws. If they are imposed for the purpose of forming a religious obligation, as if the observance of them was in itself necessary, we say that the restraint thus laid on the conscience is unlawful. Our consciences have not to do with men but with God only. Hence the common distinction between the earthly forum and the forum of conscience.¹
¹ French: …”And in fact, such is the import of the common distinction which has been held by all the schools, that human and civil jurisdictions are quite different from those which touch the conscience.”
When the whole world was enveloped in the thickest darkness of ignorance, it was still held (like a small ray of light which remained unextinguished) that conscience was superior to all human judgments. Although this, which was acknowledged in word, was afterwards violated in fact, yet God was pleased that there should even then exist an attestation to liberty, exempting the conscience from the tyranny of man.
But we have not yet explained the difficulty which arises from the words of Paul. For if we must obey princes not only from fear of punishment but for conscience sake, it seems to follow, that the laws of princes have dominion over the conscience. If this is true, the same thing must be affirmed of ecclesiastical laws.
I answer, that the first thing to be done here is to distinguish between the genus and the species. For though individual laws do not reach the conscience, yet we are bound by the general command of God, which enjoins us to submit to magistrates. And this is the point on which Paul’s discussion turns, viz., that magistrates are to be honored because they are ordained of God. (Rom. 13:1) Meanwhile, he does not at all teach that the laws enacted by them reach to the internal government of the soul, since he everywhere proclaims that the worship of God, and the spiritual rule of living righteously, are superior to all the decrees of men.
Another thing also worthy of observation, and depending on what has been already said, is, that human laws, whether enacted by magistrates or by the Church, are necessary to be observed (I speak of such as are just and good), but do not therefore in themselves bind the conscience, because the whole necessity of observing them respects the general end, and consists not in the things commanded. Very different, however, is the case of those which prescribe a new form of worshipping God, and introduce necessity into things that are free.”
Aquinas – Question 96, ‘Of the Power of Human Law’, 4th Article, ‘Whether Human Law Binds a Man in Conscience’ & 6th Article, ‘Whether He who is under may Act Beside the Letter of the Law?’ [Yes] in The ‘Summa Theologica’ of St. Thomas Aquinas, Pt. 2 (1st Part) Third Number (Questions 90-114) trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (R. & T. Washbourne, 1915), Treatise on Law, (b) In Particular, pp. 69-71 & 73-75
Ponet, John – ‘In What Things, & How Far Subjects are Bounden to Obey their Princes & Governors’. in A Short Treatise of Politic Power… (Strasbourg, 1556)
Ponet (c. 1514–1556) was an Anglican bishop, controversial writer & Marian exile. He is now best known as a resistance theorist who made a sustained attack on ‘the divine right of kings’.
Perkins, William – pp. 11-12 & 37-70 of ch. 2, ‘Of the Duties of Conscience’ in A Discourse of Conscience… (Cambridge, 1596)
“The binder of conscience is either proper or improper. Proper is that thing which has absolute and sovereign power in itself to bind the conscience. And that is the Word of God written in the books of the Old and New Testament.
Reason 1. He which is the Lord of [???] by his Word and laws binds conscience: but God is the only Lord of conscience, because He once created it, and He alone governs none but He knows it. Therefore his Word and laws only bind conscience properly.” – pp. 11-12
“The improper binder [of the conscience] is that which has no power or virtue in itself to bind conscience: but does it only by virtue of God’s Word or of some part of it. It is threefold: human laws, an oath, a promise.” – p. 38
Bucanus, William – 49th Place, ‘Concerning Magistrates’ in Institutions of Christian Religion... (1602; London, 1606)
‘Seeing that 1 Sam. 8:11, Samuel says, ‘This shall be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: 1. He will take your sons and daughters, & make them his servants. 2. He will take your fields… Does Samuel in this place arm kings with an infinite or absolute power circumscribed within no laws over the bodies & substance of his subjects?’ [No]
Bucan (d. 1603) was a professor of divinity at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.
ch. 13, Controversy 7, ‘Whether law Civil and Ecclesiastical, do simply bind in conscience?’ in Hexapla, that is, A Six-Fold Commentary upon the most divine Epistle of the holy apostle St. Paul to the Romans... ([Cambridge] 1611), pp. 617-19
1st Book, 4th General Controversy Concerning the Bishop of Rome, 7th Question, ‘The First Part, Whether the Pope may Make Laws to Bind the Conscience & Punish the Transgressors Thereof Judicially?’ in Synopsis Papismi, that is, A General View of Papistry... (London, 1592), pp. 141-145
Taylor, Thomas – pp. 294-5 on Titus ch. 1, verse 15 in A Commentarie upon the Epistle of St. Paul written to Titus... ([Cambridge] 1612)
Gillespie, George – English-Popish Ceremonies... (Edinburgh, 1637)
1st Part, ch. 4, ‘That the Ceremonies take away our Christian Liberty, proved by a second reason, namely, because Conscience itself is bound and adstricted’. Pages 8-11 are the most important. The last third of the section refutes the formalist view that such ordinances bind the outward man, though not the conscience.
“But to make it yet more and plentifully appear how miserably our opposites would enthrall our consciences, I will here show: 1. What the binding of the conscience is, 2. How the laws of the Church may be said to bind [and how not]. 3. What is the judgment of Formalists touching the binding power of ecclesiastical laws.” – p. 7
3rd Part, pp. 134-138, 142 & 155-57 of ch. 8, ‘That the Lawfulness of the Ceremonies cannot be Warranted by any Ordinance of the Civil Magistrate…’ This is the best.
“For 1. The very ground and reason wherefore we ought to obey the magistrate, is, for that he is the minister of God, or a deputy set in God’s stead to us. Now, he is the minister of God only for our good, Rom. 13:4. Neither were he God’s minister, but his owne master, if he should rule at his pleasure and command things which serve not for the good of the subjects. Since therefore the commandments of princes bind only so far as they are the ministers of God for our good: and God’s ministers they are not, in commanding such things as are either in their nature unlawful, or in their use inconvenient: it follows that such commandments of theirs cannot bind. (Pareus, on Rom. 13:4)” – p. 134
“But still I ask, are we absolutely and always bound to obey magistrates? Nay, but only when they command such things as are according to the rules of the Word, so that either they must be obeyed, or the Law of Charity shall be broken: in this case, and no other, we are bidden obey.” – p. 157
Fenner, William – ‘The Secondary Bond of Conscience’, pp. 194-206 in The Soul’s Looking-Glass, Lively Representing its Estate Before God with a Treatise of Conscience: Wherein the Definitions & Distinctions Thereof are Unfolded, & Several Cases [are] Resolved (Cambridge, 1643)
Fenner (c.1600-1640) was a reformed, English puritan.
Fenner starts out saying that ‘Others may bind conscience’, and yet after all of his qualifications, his teaching is very similar to that of Rutherford. Fenner, however, particularly errs on the subject of ‘passive obedience’ and not morally being able to resist unjust commands of magistrates except by suffering.
Rutherford, Samuel – Ch. 2, Question 2, ‘Whether Human Laws Bind the Conscience or Not?’ of The Divine Right of Church Government... (1646), pp. 201-219
Hall, Joseph – 3rd Decade, Case 6, ‘Whether the Laws of Men do Bind the Conscience, & How Far we are Tied to Their Obedience?’ in Cases of Conscience Practically Resolved Containing a Decision of the Principal Cases of Conscience of Daily Concernment & Continual Use Amongst Men: Very Necessary for their Information & Direction in These Evil Times (London, 1654)
Hall was a godly Anglican bishop.
“Thus human laws cannot bind the conscience: It is God only, 1 John 3:21, who, as He is greater than the conscience, so has power to bind or loose it: Isa. 31:22. It is He that is the only Lawgiver to the conscience: Jam. 4:12. Princes and Churches may make laws for the outward man, but they can no more bind the heart than they can make it;
The laws of men therefore do not, ought not, cannot bind your conscience, as of themselves; but, if they be just, they bind you in conscience to obedience:
As then we are wont to say in relation of our actions to the laws of God, that some things are forbidden because they are sinful, and some things are sinful because they are forbidden, so it holds also in the laws of men: some things are forbidden because they are justly offensive and some other things are only therefore offensive because they are forbidden;
In the former of these we must yield our careful obedience out of respect even to the duty itself; in the latter, out of respect to the will of the lawgiver; yet so, as that if our own important occasions shall enforce us to transgress a penal law, without any affront of authority or scandal to others, our submission to the penalty frees us from a sinful disobedience.” – pp. 211-13, 218-9
Hall, Thomas – pp. 41-42 in The Beauty of Magistracy in an Exposition of the 82nd Psalm, where is set forth the necessity, utility, dignity, duty, and mortality of magistrates… (London, 1660)
This is the bibliography on the topic that Hall provides:
“See this Question (An leges humanae & obligent conscientiam) more fully debated in D. [John] Davenant, de Judice ac norma fidei, ch. 26; D. Andrews on the fifth Commandment, ch. 4, p. 336; Ames, CC. bk. 1, ch. 11-12; Rutherford, Divine Right Of Church Government, p. 201; Sharpius, Common Places, Pt. 2, p. 240; Alsted, CC., p. 340, 342 & Gerhard, de Magistrat. Polit., p. 355; Musculus, Common Places, p. 645, folio; Ames, CC., bk. 5, ch. 25, q. 4.”
Baxter, Richard – A Christian Directory: a Sum of Practical Theology and Cases of Conscience Buy (1673)
Pt. 3, Christian Ecclesiastics, Question 132, ‘Is it unlawful to obey in all those cases where it is unlawful to impose and command? Or in what cases? And how far pastors must be believed and obeyed?’, pp. 888-889
Pt. 4, Christian Politics, 3, ‘Directions for subjects concerning their duty to their rulers. A fuller resolution of the Cases: 1. Whether the laws of men do bind the conscience; 2. Especially smaller & penal laws?’, pp. 36-38
“To ask, ‘Whether man’s law as man’s do bind us in conscience?’ is all one as to ask, ‘Whether man be God?'” – p. 36
Brown of Wamphray, John – On Rom. 13:5 in An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, with Large Practical Observations, Delivered in Several Lectures (d. 1685; Edinburgh, 1766), p. 508
Brown’s treatment is helpful, though he says, “if their commands be such as they cannot obey in conscience, they must subject themselves unto their censure and punishment…” On the face of it, this is the doctrine of the necessity of passive obedience, at least with regard to willingly undergoing the punishment for disobeying, though it is possible Brown qualifies this more in his other writings.
The necessity of passive obedience, in some respects, is more pronounced in Elder Matthew Vogan’s contemporary summary and application of this section of Brown, ‘What Does our Conscience Owe to the Government?’ (2020).
While it may be possible and right to submit to erroneous punishment or discipline for greater-good reasons (in consistency with God’s Moral Law) in some situations, yet the necessity of material, passive obedience is the same as formal, passive obedience, which is immoral, it formally founding obedience on the sinful will of man apart from the Moral Law of God. See our page, On Passive Obedience.
La Placette, Jean – Ch. 8, ‘That the Laws of our Country, and in General, the Commands of our Civil Superiors, are Rules which Oblige the Conscience’ & Ch. 9, ‘Whether we Ought to Yield Obedience to All the Laws of Civil Governors’ in The Christian Casuist: or, a Treatise of Conscience (London: 1705)
La Placette (1629-1718) was a French Huguenot minister and wrote in the context of the absolutism of the Romanist French kings. He goes too far, especially in ch. 9, with how far the magistrate must be obeyed.
“I choose to make the obligation which we are under of obeying civil laws, and the commands of our governors, to depend on the will of God, because the other foundations on which it is wont to be built do not appear of sufficient strength and solidity.” – p. 57
Vogan, Matthew – ‘What Does our Conscience Owe to the Government?’ (2020)
Vogan is an elder in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. He here summarizes and gives contemporary application to a section of John Brown of Wamphray, On Rom. 13:5 in An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans… (d. 1685; Edinburgh, 1766), p. 508.
While Vogan’s treatment is helpful, especially for the popular audience, he includes an emphasis on the necessity of passive obedience to erroneous punishment. This notion is not as pronounced in the original section of Brown.
While it may be possible and right to submit to erroneous punishment or discipline for greater-good reasons (in consistency with God’s Moral Law) in some situations, yet the necessity of material, passive obedience is the same as formal, passive obedience, which is immoral, it formally founding obedience on the sinful will of man apart from the Moral Law of God. See our page, On Passive Obedience.
Melancthon, Philip – Whether it be a Mortal Sin to Transgress Civil Laws which be the Commaundments of Civil Magistrates. The Judgment of Philip Melancton in his Epitome of Moral Philosophy… (1570) 101 pp.
Du Moulin, Pierre – A Vindication of the Sincerity of the Protestant Religion in the Point of Obedience to Sovereigns: Opposed to the Doctrine of Rebellion, Authorized & Practiced by the Pope and the Jesuits. In Answer to a Jesuitical Libel Entitled, Philanax Anglicus (London, 1679) 148 pp. There is no table of contents.
The Second Part of The Non-Conformists’ Plea for Peace being an Account of their principles about Civil and Ecclesiastical Authority and Obedience… (London, 1680) ToC The book ends with ch. 11, even though the ToC has 14 chapters. Ch. 3, ‘Of the Power of Kings & the Peoples’ Obedience’ is not recommended.
Obedient Patience in General; and in 20 Particular Cases, with Helps to Obtain & Use it… (London, 1683) ToC The main emphasis of this work is on patience, or patient obedience in suffering wrong.
Clark, Samuel – Of Scandal, together with a Consideration of the Nature of Christian Liberty & Things Indifferent. Wherein these Weighty Questions are Fully Discussed: Whether things Indifferent become Necessary, when Commanded by Authority? Neg. Whether scandalous things, being enjoined, may lawfully be done? Neg. Whether a restraint laid upon things indifferent, without a reasonable ground, be not an infringement of Christian liberty? Aff. Who is to be Judge, whether there be a Reasonable Ground or No, in such Cases? How far forth we are Bound in Conscience to Obey Human Laws? (London, 1680) 123 pp. + 23 pp.
Clark (1626-1701) was a reformed puritan, non-conformist minister who was ejected in 1662. He was known for his whole Bible commentary. Both his father and a son of his bore his same name.
Rutherford’s 7 Distinctions & 6 Conclusions
Samuel Rutherford, Ch. 2, Question 2, ‘Whether Human Laws Bind the Conscience or Not?’ in The Divine Right of Church Government... (1646), pp. 201-219
1. A human law is taken (1) in concreto, when judges command what God commands, as when they make a law against murder; (2) in abstracto, when the judge forbids what may tend to murder, as carrying armor in a city in the night [which is suspicious of violence and a threat to the society; c.f. Rom. 13:12].
2. There is some moral equity in right human laws.
3. [There is] something positive [in right human laws].
4. There be four things to be regarded in human laws: (1) Public peace of the society; (2) The credit, honor and majesty of the ruler, even when the law is unjust; (3) Obedience passive, and subjection, by patient suffering; (4) Obedience active by doing, which is now to be considered.
5. A human law-civil may oblige, ratione generalis praecepti, ‘in regard of the general command’ to obey our superiors, as the Fifth Command says. But the question is, if a human law, as merely positive [without moral equity], oblige in conscience, as if this which the captain forbids, as not to speak the watch-word, be in itself against the Sixth Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not murder’, if no murder follow upon the not speaking of the watch-word, though it be against the Fifth [Commandment] in the general.
6. The question is not whether we be obliged in conscience to obey superiors in things lawful, or whether we be obliged in conscience to obey superiors when they are sole authoritative relaters and carriers of God’s express law to us, for then they bring nothing of their own to lay upon us, and in these cases their laws are rather God’s laws delivered by superiors to us, and bind the conscience.
But the question is, if positive laws in particular matters, negatively only, conform to the Word, as in matters of economy and policy, as not to eat flesh in Lent, for the growth of cattle; in matters of art, and in ordering of war and military acts commanded by captains, if these commandments, as such, oblige the conscience. Now to oblige the conscience is when the not doing of such a thing brings an evil conscience; now an evil conscience, as Pareus says, is the sense of sin committed against God and the fear of God’s judgment.
7. The conscience is obliged by doing or not doing two ways: (1) Per se, kindly [in its kind], when the fact of itself obliges and for no respect without, as to give alms to the poor at the commandment of the superior: (2) When the fact obliges for a reason from public peace, good example and order.
1. When rulers command what God expressly commands, their laws oblige the conscience, Ps. 34:11, ‘Come ye children, hearken unto me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord;’ Prov. 4:1, “Hear ye children the instruction of a Father.”
2. Public peace in all the commandments of superiors, in so far as can be without sin, obliges the conscience, as Heb. 12:14, ‘Follow peace with all men and godliness;’ Ps. 34:14, ‘Seek peace and follow after it;’ Rom. 12:18.
3. Subjection to the censures of rulers by suffering patiently is an obligation lying upon all private persons, 1 Pet. 2:20, ‘But if when ye do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable to God;’ Rom. 13:2, ‘Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.’
4. Nothing in non-obeying unwarrantable commandments must be done that redounds to the discredit of the ruler or the hurting of his majesty and honor, 1 Pet. 2:17, ‘Honor the king;’ Eccl. 10:20, ‘Curse not the king: for even when we deny subjection or obedience-objective to that which they command, yet owe we obedience official, and all due respect and reverence to the person and eminent place of the ruler, as Acts 7:2, Steven calls them, Men, brethren and fathers, Acts. 7:51, and yet ‘stiffnecked resisters of the Holy Ghost.’
5. Human laws, whether civil or ecclesiastic, in that particular positive matter which they have of art, economy, policy, and in God’s matters of mere human coin and stamp, do not bind the conscience at all, per se, kindly [in their kind] and of themselves.
1. Nothing, but what is either Gods express Word, or his Word by consequence does lay a band on the conscience of itself: But not to eat flesh in Lent upon civil reasons [to let the cattle grow], not to carry armor in the night, to wear surplice, and to cross infants in Baptism, are neither God’s Word expressly, nor by consequence. The major [proposition] is sure, because the Word is the perfect and adequate object of matters of faith and moral practice which concerns the conscience, Ps. 19:7-8; 119:9; Jn. 20:31; Prov. 8:9.
2. Because whatever thing lays a band on the conscience, the not doing of that would be a sin before God if the ruler should never command it. But the carrying [of] armor in the night, the not wearing [of a] surplice in divine service should be no sin before God if the ruler should never command them, as reason, Scriptures and adversaries teach. The proposition I instruct from the definition of an obligation of conscience, for to lay a band on the conscience is defined [as] to lay a command on the soul, which ye are obliged before God to do, as you would eschew sin and obtain eternal salvation…
3. None can lay on a band of not-doing under the hazard of sin, but they that can remit sins, for the power that looses, the same binds: But mortal men cannot bind to sin, nor loose men from sin, but where God goes before them in binding and loosing, for they cannot bestow the grace of pardoning sin…
4. Whoever can lay on bands of laws to bring any under the debt of sin, must lay on bands of obligation to eternal punishment, but God only can do this, Mt. 10:28. The Proposition is clear, because sin against God, essentially includes a relative obligation to eternal punishment.
5. In matters of Gods worship this is clear. The schoolmen, as Aquinas, Suarez, Ferrariensis, Conradus teach us that there is a twofold good. The first is:
An objective and primordial goodness, whereby things are agreeable to God’s Law, if rulers find not this in that good which they command, they are not just, and so not to be obeyed.
There is another goodness that comes from the will of authority, and so only divine authority must make things good; the will and authority of rulers finds objective goodness in them, and therefore enacts laws of things, but because they enact laws of things, they do not therefore become good and lawful; It is the will of the Creator of all beings which is the measure, rule and cause of the goodness of things…
Men cannot make worlds; nor can their will create goodness in acts indifferent, nor can their forbidding will illegitimate or make evil any actions indifferent, and therefore things must be morally good, and so intrinsically good without the creative influence of human authority, and from God only are they apt to edify, and to oblige the conscience in the terms of goodness moral.
And this is strengthened by that which in reason cannot be denied, to wit, that it is essential to every human law that lays any obligation on the conscience, that it be just, nor is it to be called a law except it be just, and justice and equity human laws have from God, the law of nature and his Word, not from the authority and will of men… the schoolmen… give strong reasons why rulers cannot lay an obligation on the conscience when the matter of the law is light and naughty… the just weight of the matter is the only just ground of the law’s obligation. Therefore:
1. The will of the lawgiver, except he make a moat a mountain, cannot lay an obligation of necessity on man.
2. It were a foolish law, and so no law to oblige to eternal punishment and the offending of God for a light thing, for this were to place the way of salvation in that wherein the way consists not.
3. Such a law were not for edification, but for destruction of souls.
4. This was the Pharisees fault, Mt. 23, to lay on intolerable burdens on men’s souls.
5. The law of God and nature frees us in positive laws from guilt, in case of necessity, as David did lawfully eat showbread.
6. A civil law may not take away a man’s life for a straw, far less can it bind to God’s wrath.
7. Augustine says they be unjust balances to esteem things great or small for our sole will.
Out of all which, I conclude that no law as a law does oblige the conscience, but that which has from the matter moral equity, and not from the intention of the lawgiver, as Cajetan, Silvester, Angelus and Corduba teach, which intention must take a rule from the matter of the law, and not give a rule. Gerson, no law (says he) is a law to be called as necessary to salvation (as all good laws should be) but that which de jure divino, is according to God’s law… And therefore his [Durandus’s] mind is that all obligation of Conscience, in human commandments comes from God’s will and law, that is, from the just and necessary matter of the law, not from the will of men.
6. All human or ecclesiastic laws binding the conscience have necessary, and not probable deduction only, by the warrant of both the major proposition and assumption from the Word of God and Law of Nature…
…And it follows from a sure ground that [which] Vasquez lays down, and he has it from Driedo, to wit, that the efficacy of obligation in human laws, comes not from the will of lawgivers, or their intention, but from the dignity or weightiness of the matter. If then the matter be not from God’s law, just, the obligation is none at all; for if the law from man’s will shall lay on an obligation of three degrees, whereas God’s law from God’s will, before men enacted this in a law, laid on an obligation of two degrees only, tying the conscience, then the will of man creates obligation, or the obligative power of conscience in the matter of the law, and by that same reason he creates goodness, which is absurd, for that is proper to God only.
I grant it is hard, because of the variety of singular actions in man’s life, to see the connection betwixt particulars of human laws and God’s laws; yet a connection there is, and for this cause the learned worthy divine, Pareus will have human laws in particulari and per se, ‘in the particular’ and ‘of themselves’ to bind the conscience. Whereas Calvin, and Beza, Junius, Tilenus, Sibrandus, Whittakerus and others deny this. But the truth is, human civil laws are two ways considered:
1. As they are merely positive and according to the letter of the Law;
2. As they have a connection with (1) the principles of nature, of right and wrong; (2) with the end of the law, which is the supreme law, the safety of the people…
…for whatever obliges the conscience as a divine truth, the ignorance thereof is a sinful ignorance, and makes a man guilty of eternal wrath, but men are not guilty and liable to the eternal wrath of God because they are ignorant of all the civil laws in Justinian’s book; then were we obliged to be no less versed in all the civil laws, that binds in foro humano [in the court of man], than of the Bible and law of God.
The adversaries strive to prove that these laws oblige the conscience…”
The Tetrapolitan Confession 1530
in ed. Dennison, Reformed Confessions of the 16th & 17th Centuries… vol. 1 (2008), p. 155-6
Ch. 14, ‘Of Human Traditions’
“Furthermore, concerning the traditions of the fathers or such as the bishops and churches at this day ordain, the opinion of our men is as follows: They reckon no traditions among human traditions (such, namely, as are condemned in the Scriptures) except those that conflict with the law of God,ª such as bind the conscience concerning meat, drink, times and other external things, such as forbid marriage to those to whom it is necessary for an honorable life and other things of that stamp.
For such as agree with the Scripture, and were instituted for good morals and the profit of men, even though not expressed in Scripture in words, nevertheless, since they flow from the command of love, which orders all things most becomingly, are justly regarded divine rather than human.”
Commentary on Jer. 35, v. 7, on the Rechabites
“Now that the prophet was ordered to offer them wine, and that they refused, a question here arises: Was their continency in this respect laudable? They seemed thus to prefer Jonadab [their forefather] to God, for they knew that Jeremiah, who offered them wine, was sent by God.
But the Rechabites, no doubt, modestly excused themselves, when they said that it was not right for them to drink wine, because they had been forbidden by their father. It was not then their purpose to give more honor to their father than to God or to his prophet, but they simply answered for the sake of excusing themselves, that they had abstained from wine for three hundred years, that is, that the whole family had done so. This, then, is the solution of the question.
But what the Papists do in bringing against us the Rechabites, first to support their tyrannical laws, and secondly, in order to torment miserable consciences at their pleasure, is frivolous in the extreme. As I have already said, the advice of Jonadab is not commended, as though he had rightly forbidden his sons to drink wine; but only his sons are spoken of as having reverently and humbly obeyed the command of their dead father. Then this passage gives no countenance to the Papists, as though the object of it was to bind the consciences of the faithful to their laws; for what is here spoken of is that the Rechabites proved by their obedience how base and wicked was the obduracy of the people, as they showed less reverence and honor to God than these did to a man that was dead.
But the Papists, however, dwell much on another point, — that whatever has been handed down from the fathers ought to be observed; and thus they reason, “The authority of the whole Church is greater than that of a private man; now the Rechabites are commended for having followed the command of a private individual, much more then ought we to obey the laws of the Church.”
To this I answer, that we ought to obey the fathers and the whole Church: nor have we a controversy with them on this subject; for we do not simply say, that everything which men have delivered to us ought to be rejected; but we deny that we ought to obey the laws of men, when they bind the conscience without any necessity. When, therefore, a religious act is enjoined on us, men arrogate to themselves what is peculiar to God alone; thus the authority of God is violated, when men claim so much for themselves as to bind consciences by their own laws.
We must then distinguish between civil laws, such as are introduced to preserve order, or for some other end, and spiritual laws, such as are introduced into God’s worship, and by which religion is enjoined, and necessity is laid on consciences.”
‘Theodore Beza’s Confession (1560): A Brief & Pithy Sum of Christian Faith’, 5th Point, ‘Of the Church’, 33. ‘To What Purpose or End Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Serves and What are the Parts of it’ in Reformed Confessions of the 16th & 17th Centuries, ed. Dennison (RHB, 2010), vol. 2, pp. 323
“But concerning the first part (which lies in the power [of the Church] to decree or ordain), we have already declared above that God has received to Himself fully and entirely the right to prescribe laws pertaining to the conscience and that we should walk in them uprightly before God and man.”
6 Scottish Presbyterian Ministers – in David Calderwood, History of the Church of Scotland, vol. 6, 1606, p. 462
“…all defenses, seeing they are de jure naturali et communi [by the law of nature and common law], God, and nature, and all laws, permitting lawful defenses…”
Hexapla, that is, A Six-Fold Commentary upon the most divine Epistle of the holy apostle St. Paul to the Romans… ([Cambridge] 1611), ch. 13, 3. The Questions & Doubts Discussed, Question 17, ‘How far the Magistrate is to be Obeyed, and wherein not to be Obeyed?’, p. 588
“…so neither is the prince to be obeyed, using his authority against God, in commanding impious and unhonest things: we must give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things which are God’s, we may not give unto the prince the things which are God’s, that is, the conscience.
And in this case the apostles give us a rule, to obey God rather than man, Acts 4:19, when obedience then is denied in unjust and unlawful things, not the authority which is God’s ordinance, but the abuse of the authority is gainsaid.”
A Logical Analysis of Romans (†1617) on Rom. 13:5, p. 293. Ferme (1565-1617) was a reformed Scottish divine.
“From this it follows, that subjects are no farther bound to obey the magistrate because of conscience, than in as far as he himself presides and enjoins with a good conscience, and on the authority of the Word of God: and besides, it is worthy of observation, that the wrath of the magistrate, unless directed against the disobedient, refusing to do their duty according to the injunction of Jehovah, is neither just, nor lawful, nor to be feared by his subjects, but Christians, in the Christian warfare, must pass through the midst of it to victory in Christ, by the power of the Spirit of God;
as we see in the case of Daniel, who rose to victory through the lions’ den, with his three friends, who esteemed the wrath of the king as nothing in comparison with their duty to God, although the disobedient were threatened with a fiery furnace, the heat of which had been increased seven times.”
Lex Rex… (1644; Edinburgh, 1843),
“That power of government in general must be from God… Now God only by a divine law can lay a band of subjection on the conscience, tying men to guilt and punishment if they transgress.”
Question 29, Whether in the Case of Defensive War, the Distinction of the Person of the King, as a Man, who can commit acts of hostile Tyranny against his Subject, and of the Office and Royal Power that He has from God and the People, as a King, Can Have Place?
“He that commandeth not what God commandeth, and punisheth and killeth where God, if personally and immediately present, would neither command nor punish, is not in these acts to be subjected unto, and obeyed as a superior power, though in habit he may remain a superior power; for all habitual, all actual superiority is a formal participation of the power of the Most High.”
The Divine Right of Church Government… (1646)
“Christ has not made pastors under-kings to create any laws morally obliging the conscience to obedience in the court of God, which God has not made to their hand;
if the king and synods only declare and propound, by a power of jurisdiction, that which God in the Law of Nature or the written Word has commanded; they are not the Law-makers, nor creators of that morality in the Law, which lays bonds on the conscience; yea, they have no organical, nor inferior influence in creating that morality, God only by an immediate act as the only immediate king, made the morality, and if king, parliaments and synods be under kings and under Law-givers, they must have an under-action, and a ministerial, subservient, active influence under Christ in creating as second causes, that which is the formal reason, and essence of all laws binding the conscience, and that is the morality that obliges the soul to eternal wrath, though king, parliament, pastors or synods should never command such a moral thing:
Now to propound, or declare, that God’s will is to be done in such an act, or synodical directory or canon, and to command it to be observed under civil and ecclesiastical pain, is not to make a law, it is indeed to act authoritatively under Christ as King: but it makes them neither kings, nor Law-givers, no more than heralds are little kings, or inferior law-givers, and parliaments, because in the name and authority of king and parliament they promulgate the laws of king and parliament:
The heralds are mere servants, and do indeed represent king and parliament, and therefore to wrong them, in the promulgation of laws, is to wrong king and parliament; but the heralds had no action, no hand at all in making the laws; they may be made when all the heralds are sleeping, and so by no propriety of speech can heralds be called mediate kings, under-Lawgivers, just so here, as touching the morality of all human laws, whether civil or ecclesiastical, God Himself immediately, yea, from eternity by an act of his free-pleasure made that without advice of men or angels; for who instructed Him? Neither Moses, nor prophet, nor apostle; yea, all here are meri precones, only heralds;
Yet are not all these heralds, who declare the morality of laws, [for] equals may declare them charitative[ly], by way of charity to equals; but these only are to be obeyed as heralds of laws, whom God has placed in authority, as kings, parliaments, synods, the Church, masters, fathers, captains;
And it follows no ways that we disclaim the authority of all these because we will not enthrone them in the chair of the Supreme and only Lawgiver, and head of the Church; they are not under-Law-givers and little kings to create laws, the morality of which binds the conscience (for this God only can do); therefore, there be no parliaments, no kings, no rulers that have authority over men, it is a most unjust consequence; for all our divines, against Papists, deny that human laws, as human, do bind the conscience; but they deny not, but assert the power of jurisdiction in kings, parliaments, synods, pastors.”
“…but I owe subjection of conscience to God solely, independently, and only… Yea, though crosses and afflictions work only upon us, as occasions, and external objects; yet are we to submit our conscience to them, as to warnings, because they be sent as God’s messengers appointed by Him, as Mic. 6:9, ‘Hear the rod, and who has appointed it.'”
“…obedience to authority in things wanting [lacking] God’s Word… is not obedience, but sinning, because [it is] doing without faith [Rom. 14:23].”
A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience… (1649), ch. 11, ‘Of the Obliging Power of Conscience’, p. 134
“…and certainly unjust laws from a just prince lay no band on the conscience or on the man, far less can the promulgation [of the law], as the promulgation, lay any bands on the conscience…”
111 Propositions… (Edinburgh, 1647), #53 & 60
“53. The object of ecclesiastical power is not the same with the object of the civil power, but much differing from it; for the ecclesiastical power does determine and appoint nothing concerning men’s bodies, goods, dignities, civil rights, but is employed only about the inward man, or the soul, not that it can search the hearts, or judge of the secrets of the conscience, which is in the Power of God alone: Yet notwithstanding it has for its proper object those externals which are purely spiritual, and do belong properly and most nearly to the spiritual good of the soul; Which also are termed [in Greek] the inward things of the Church.
60. Now we have one only Lord which governs our souls, neither is it competent to man, but to God alone to have power and authority over consciences. But the Lord has appointed his own [ecclesiastical] stewards over his own Family, that according to his commandment they may give to every one their allowance or portion, and to dispense his mysteries faithfully; and to them he has delivered the keys, or power of letting in into his house, or excluding out of his house those whom He Himself will have let in or shut out. Mt. 16:19 and 18:18; Lk. 12:42; 1 Cor. 4:1; Tit. 1:7″
‘True Christian Freedom’ (d. 1654) on Jn. 8:36, from The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, ch. 1
“(iv) Freedom from Obedience to Men
In the next place we observe that the believer is not only freed from Satan, from sin, and from the law; he is also freed from obedience to men. We have no lords over us; men are our brethren; and our Lord and Master is in heaven. We find in Scripture a double charge: do not usurp mastership, do not undergo servitude. Consider the first, not to usurp mastership. We read in the Word: ‘Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. . . . Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.’ (Matt. 23.8-10)
As for the second, not to undergo servitude, we read: ‘Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men’ (1 Cor. 7:23). The meaning is, that we are not to acknowledge any our supreme master, nor are we to give our faith and consciences, nor enthral our judgments, to the sentences, definitions, or determinations of any man or men upon earth, because this would be to make men masters of our faith, which the apostle so much abhorred: ‘We are not masters of your faith, but helpers of your joy’ (2 Cor. 1:24).
There are two kinds of masters, masters according to the flesh, and masters according to the spirit. The first kind you read of in Eph. 6:5-7: ‘Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh’. The second kind we read of in Matt 23:8-10, as already mentioned. To our masters according to the flesh we are to be obedient, so far as appertains to the outward man, in all outward things. But of our souls and consciences, as we have no fathers, so we have no masters upon earth, only our Master and Father which is in Heaven; and in this sense Christ speaks, that we must not absolutely yield up ourselves to be ruled by the will of any, nor enthrall our judgments, nor submit our faith and consciences to any power below Christ. It were high usurpation for any to require it; it is to trespass on Christ’s Royal Prerogative, and it were no less iniquity for us to render it.“
p. 287 of Question 31, ‘Does a legislative power properly so called, of enacting laws binding the conscience, belong to the church? Or only an ordaining (diataktike) power, of sanctioning constitutions and canons for the sake of good order (eutaxian)? The former we deny; the latter we affirm against the Romanists.’ under ‘Ecclesiastical Power’ in the 18th topic, ‘The Church’ in Institutes, vol. 3
“V. …the conscience has no one between itself and God by whom it may be known and judged. As it is known to God alone, so can it be judged by Him alone.”
God Only is the One Lawgiver
Calvin, John – Institutes, bk. 4, ch. 10, sections 7-8
That the Law Arises out of the Circumstances
The Divine Right of Church Government… (1646), An Introduction to the Doctrine of Scandal, ‘Whether or No Things Indifferent can be Commanded Because Indifferent?’
“The Church’s power is one and the same in things indifferent and necessary in matters of doctrine, discipline, and order; for in both, the Church does not create goodness, but does by the light of the Word, or (which is a part of the Word) by nature’s light, find pre-existent goodness in doctrine, discipline, and matters of order.
Therefore will of authority, as will, has no power to dispose of the least circumstance of time, place or person; but the Church’s power is ministerial, and determined to what is good, expedient, and convenient.”
“2. What rulers think good is not a rule for constitutions and for peoples obedience in matters circumstantial; but the rule of rulers here in making laws, and of people in obeying laws, is goodness itself, order, decency, aptitude to edify, in things that they command…
3. Scripture and the Law of nature, and right reason, which is a deduction from Scripture, is able sufficiently in all canons and constitutions to regulate both rulers and people, and to determine what is convenient in circumstances; and the Lord here is an infallible Judge, speaking in his Word, as he is in all matters…”
The Fulfilling of the Scripture… (Boston, 1743), Appendix, pp. 508-9
“9. It seems to threaten a snare when inquiry about the duty of the time is pursued without respect to the present case and circumstances thereof. For thus a snare may wait in a thing at other times indifferent, the neglect whereof under some special circumstances may be a quitting their duty; and the doing also, or yielding to something in another case warrantable, at sometimes may fall under a moral prohibition.
As this, when a thing in itself indifferent, circa sacra et cultum Dei [around sacred things and the worship of God], is pressed by the magistrate as necessary by virtue of his sole command, and to the subjecting the godly in things wherein they are not subject, and to the prejudice of an other jurisdiction; can there be an inquiry about this in the general, without a particular application to the complex case?
It may be said a snare is then on the entry when that consideration of the prophet is not much regarded in the present question, ‘Is this a time for such a thing?’ For the disciples to refresh themselves with sleep was a piece of innocent duty; but that they could not watch this one hour with their Master in his sufferings, must needs vary the case, for it was in so far a deserting Him.”
A Civil Legal Maxim
‘Ex factis jus oritur’, “The law arises from the facts.”
That Subjection (Rom. 13:1) does Not Always Entail Obedience
‘Subjection’ means giving honor, per the 5th Commandment, to one’s superiors, acknowledging their authority in lawful and good matters, and obeying them where their particular commands reflect the will of God, and to that degree. Hence one may be able to be subject to authorities above oneself (per the 5th Commandment and Rom. 13:1) even where one, respectfully, cannot obey particular commands of theirs.
English-Popish Ceremonies… (1637),
‘To All & Every One in the Reformed Churches…’, no page number
“Finally, it is to be noted that though in some things we may and do commendably refuse obedience to the laws of those whom God has set over us, yet are we ever obliged (and accordingly intend) still to subject ourselves unto them. For to be subject, does signify (as Zanchius shows [Commentary on Eph. 5, on Subject.]) to be placed under, to be subordinate, and so to give honor and reverence to him who is above, which may well stand without obedience to every one of his laws. Yea and Dr. Field [an Anglican] also tells us, that subjection is generally and absolutely required, where obedience is not.”
“As touching submission or subjection, we say with Dr. Field that subjection is generally and absolutly required where obedience is not, and even when our consciences suffer us not to obey, yet still we submit and subject ourselves, and neither do nor shall (I trust) show any the least contempt of authority.”
pt. 2, ch. 9, p. 46
“6. Why holds he us [to be] contemners of the Church for not receiving the five Articles of Perth ? We cannot be called contemners for not obeying, but for not subjecting ourselves, wherewith we cannot be charged. Could he not distinguish betwixt subjection and obedience? Art thou a doctor in Israel, and knowest not these things? Nay, art thou a conformist, and knowest not what thy fellow conformists do hold? (Field, Of the Church, bk. 4, ch. 34 & Bilson, apud Parker of the Cross, pt. 2, p. 33)”
Protesters No Subverters… (1658), p. 60
“But if they [the Resolutioners] will extend it [the ordination vows] further, and say that it is meaned of absolute subjection to the sentence of his brethren, whether he have offended or not, they may as well, and with more color of reason, say that he is bound by his oath, not only to give subjection, but also obedience† to all their admonitions, whether just or unjust, lawful or unlawful…”
† [Notice Guthrie’s distinction between subjection in things lawful (e.g. Rom. 13), versus obedience to all commands.]
pp. xiii (bot) – xviii of ‘Life of David Calderwood’, appended to The History of the Kirk of Scotland (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1842-49), vol. 8
Calderwood was a leading presbyterian during the dark years of the ealry-1600’s in Scotland. Note that for significant parts of this interchange with the king in 1617, wherein Calderwood asserted the law above the king’s will and pleasure, and went to prison for it, Calderwood “was still upon his knees”. – p. xviii The occasion for this summoning of Calderwood before the king was his assisting in a meeting of elders petitioning for presbyterian principles contra the usurping episcopalianism.
On Godly Subjection to Rulers
English-Popish Ceremonies (1637), pt. 2, ch. 1, pp. 12-13
“…especially seeing his Majesty [King Charles I] shall ever find that he has none more loyal and true subjects, who will more gladly employ and bestow their lives, lands, houses, holds, goods, gear, rents, revenues, places, privileges, means, moities and all, in his Highness’s service and mantainance of his royal crown;
and moreover, have so deeply conceived a strong and full persuasion of his Majesty’s princely virtues, and much renowned propension to piety, and equity, that they will urge their consciences, by all good and lawful means, to assent unto every thing which he enjoins, as right and convenient; and when the just aversation [aversion] of conscience upon evident reasons is invincible, will notwithstanding be more willing to all other duties of subjection, and more averse from the least show of contempt.”
If Authorities may Rule only in Accord with God’s Moral Law, how then is this More Authority than being Privately Counseled with God’s Moral Law?
English-Popish Ceremonies... (Edinburgh, 1637), pt. 1, ch. 4, pp. 10-11
“If any say that I derogate much from the authority of the Church when I do nothing which she prescribes except I see it lawful and expedient, because I should do this much for the exhortation and admonition of a brother.
Answer: 1. I give far more reverence to the direction of the Church than to the admonition of a brother, because that is ministerial, this fraternal: that comes from authority, this only from charity: that is public, this private: that is given by many, this by one: And finally, the Church has a calling to direct me in some things wherein a brother has not.
2. If it be still instanced that in the point of obedience, I do no more for the Church than for any brother because I am bound to do that which is made evident to be lawful and expedient, though a private Chri∣stian do but exhort me to it, or, whether I be exhorted to it or not. For answer to this I say that I will obey the directions of the Church in many things rather than the directions of a brother; for in two things which are in themselves indifferent, and none of them inexpedient, I will do that which the Church requires, though my brother should exhort me to the contrary. But always I hold me at this sure ground, that I am never bound in conscience to obey the ordinances of the Church except they be evidently lawful and expedient. This is that, sine quo non obligant [without which they do not bind], and also that which does chiefly bind, though it be not the only thing which binds.
Now for making the matter more plain we must consider that the constitutions of the Church are either lawful or unlawful: if unlawful, they bind not at all: if lawful, they are either concerning things necessary as Acts 15:28, and then the necessity of the things do bind, whether the Church ordain them or not; or else concerning things indifferent, as when:
the Church ordains that in great towns there shall be sermon on such a day of the week and public prayers every day at such an hour, here it is not the bare authority of the Church that binds, without respect to the lawfulness or expediency of the thing itself which is ordained (else we were bound to do everything which the Church ordains, were it never so unlawful, for quod competit alicui qua tali, competit omni tali.
We behold the authority of the Church making laws, as well in unlawful ordinances as in lawful, not yet is it the lawfulness or expediency of the thing itself without respect to the ordinance of the Church (for possibly other times and diets were as lawful and expedient too for such exercises, as those ordained by the Church), but it is the authority of the Church prescribing a thing lawful or expedient. In such a case then neither does the authority of the Church bind except the thing be lawful and expedient, not does the lawfulness and expediency of the thing bind except the Church ordain it, but both these jointly do bind.”
The Divine Right of Church Government... (1646), Ch. 2, Question 2, ‘Whether Human Laws Bind the Conscience or Not?’, pp. 210-11
“Answer: 1. We owe to equals, to Mahomet, conditional and cautionary faith and obedience; thus, I believe what Mahomet says, so he speak God’s Word; yea, so Samaritans who worshipped they knew not what (Jn. 4:26) gave faith to their teachers in a blind way, so they speak according to God’s Word.
2. It follows in no sort, if rulers are only to be obeyed when they bring God’s Word, that then they are no more to be obeyed than equals and inferiors, because there is a double obedience, one of conscience, and [one] objective, coming from the thing commanded; And in respect of this, the Word has no less authority, and does no less challenge obedience of conscience, and objective, when my equal speaks it in a private way, yea, when I write it in my muse, than when a pastor speaks it by public authority;
For we teach against Papists that the Word borrows no authority from men, nor is it with certainty of faith to be received as the Word of man, but as indeed the Word of God, as the Scripture says:
1. There is another obedience-official, which is also obedience of conscience, because the Fifth Commandment enjoins it. Yet not obedience of conscience coming from the particular [positive aspect] commanded in human laws, as human;
so I owe obedience of subjection, and submission of affection, of fear, love, honor, respect, by virtue of the Fifth Commandment to rulers when they command according to God’s Word, and this I owe not to equals or inferiors; and so it follows not that the power of rulers and synods is titular, because they must warrant their mandates from the Word…
But 3. That I owe no more objective subjection of conscience to this, ‘Thou shalt not murder’, ‘Believe in Jesus Christ,’ when rulers and pastors command them, than when I read them in God’s Word…
…whether public or private person, adds not any intrinsical authority to the Word, for then the Word should be more or less God’s Word, as the bearers were public, or private, more or less worthy. As God’s Word spoken by Amos, a prophet, should not be a word of such intrinsical authority as spoken by Moses, both a prince and a prophet.
4. …and there is reason that synods and pastors, should rather promulgate God’s laws than the people:
1. Because God has given to them by office, the key of knowledge.
2. Because by office they are watchmen, and so have authority of office to hear the Law at God’s mouth, and in synods to give directories or canons according to that Word, which people have not, and that their canons must be according to God’s Word, is said in the Word, Neh. 10:32, “Also we made ordinances for us… (v. 34) as it is written in the law of the Lord.”
Protesters No Subverters… (1658), pp. 46-47
“But all Church-power and authority is bounded by the Word of God, and is for edification only; And therefore all the subjection that is due thereunto, is in the Lord only; and when we are thus subject, the power and authority is sufficiently acknowledged and preserved.
But, say our [Resolutioner] Brethren, without this [absolute, necessary, passive] submission [to erroneous Church decisions] which they plead for, our established judicatories would be nothing but consultative meetings.
But this we also deny, because what is resolved and determined by Kirk-judicatories in a right way, does not only bind by virtue of the intrinsic lawfulness thereof, it being for matter God’s Word, and by virtue of the reverence that is due to the gifts and endowments of brethren and friends counselling right things, which is all that can be attributed to a consultative meeting, but also by virtue of a positive law of God, by which He has commanded us to hear the Church, and those that sit in Moses’ chair, and to be subject in the Lord to Church-Governors, to whom He has given a ministerial and official authority and power to assemble in His Name in the respective courts appointed by Himself for governing His House according to the rule of His Word; And therefore as they have authority or a superiority of jurisdiction, which no consultative meeting has; So whosoever resists their power, when put forth to edification, and not to destruction, does not only sin by despising that Word of God which is the matter of their decree, and by despising the gifts and graces of their brethren that are exercised in holding forth light unto them, but does also sin by resisting the ordinance of God: a Kirk-judicatory modeled according to the pattern showed in the mount, and clothed with authority from Jesus Christ, and proceeding according to the Law and to the Testimony, to which they ought to be subject, God having commanded us so to do.”
On Rulers Erring in Judgment in a Situation with Degrees of Goodness
The Divine Right of Church Government... (1646), p. 656
“In such a case as that where two [alternate choices of] circumstances, both of three [possible] degrees of goodness [either good, better or best] occurs, [1.] rulers can reasonably tie people to neither [circumstance], but leave it alternatively to their liberty; for why should liberty be restrained where necessity of order, and decency does not necessitate the ruler’s will?
2. In such a case the ruler’s will, as will, should not be the formal cause why one is enacted rather than another, but [rather] the ruler’s will [should be] led by a reason from conveniency, and so there were a prevalent reason for the one rather than the other.
3. I deny that such a metaphysical case of two things every way of alike conveniency can fall out, as [in] the matter of a grave and weighty Church-constitution; For Nature’s light, rules of prudence, pretty [attractiveness, fitness], charity, and sobriety shall ever find out and discover an exsuperancy [highness] of goodness and conveniency of one above another.
4. Granting there be three degrees of goodness and conveniency in sitting [at the Lord’s Table], and two degrees of goodness and conveniency in kneeling [at the Lord’s Table], in this case the object necessitates the ruler’s will to command sitting and refuse kneeling:†
[† Rutherford is arguing on his opponents’ assumptions, as Rutherford held that sitting at the Lord’s Table was a spiritually significant, and therefore necessary, action.]
1. Because good being the formal object of a reasonable will, in both rulers and people, that which partakes more of the nature of good is first to be chosen. Ergo [Therefore], the ruler’s will is determinated and morally necessitated to a circumstance of three degrees before a circumstance of two degrees; and we obey for the goodness of the thing commanded and not for the will of the rulers.
2. If people obey, and so embrace a circumstance of two degrees, and refuse a convenient circumstance of three degrees, they either make this choice for the goodness and conveniency of the circumstance, or for the mere will of authority; the former cannot be said, because of two goods, known to be so, the one of three degrees and the other of two degrees, the will cannot reasonably choose the less good, because a less good, known as a less good, is evil, and the will cannot reasonably choose known evil: A less good is a good with a defect, and so morally evil.
If then ruler’s cannot choose evil, they cannot reasonably command others to choose it; if the latter be said, the choice of people is reasonless, and their conscience rests upon the mere will of authority, which is slavish obedience. How are we then bidden, ‘Try all things’? [1 Thess. 5:21]“
On Obedience or Resistance to Laws that are Inconvenient
Gillespie, George – pt. 2, ch. 1, ‘Against Some of our Opposites who aknowledge the inconveniency of the Ceremonies & yet would have us yield to them’ in English Popish Ceremonies (1637), pp. 1-13
“Do they [our divines] not teach… That the negative precepts of the Law do bind, not only at all times, but likewise to all times, (whereupon it follows that we may never do that which is inconvenient or scandalous), and that the affirmative precepts though they bind at all times, yet not to all times, but only quando expedit [when it is set clear] (whereupon it follows that we are never bound to the practice of any duty commanded in the Law of God except only when it is expedient to be done)?
…forasmuch as to abstain from things scandalous and inconvenient is one of the negative precepts of the Law of God… it follows that the use and practice of the same is altogether unlawful unto us.” – p. 9
English Popish Ceremonies (1637), pt. 2, ch. 9, p. 41-2
“I would learn of him what makes a lawful ordinance about matters of fact or things to be done? Not the will of superiors, else there shall be no unlawful ordinances (for every ordinance has the will of the ordainer). Not the lawfulness of the thing in itself which is ordained either, for then every ordinance which prescribes a thing lawful in itselfe, were it never so inexpedient in respect of supervenient circumstances, should be lawful.
To a lawful ordinance, then, [is] required not only that the thing ordained be lawful in itself… [but] also that it be not inexpedient. So that a thing may be lawful in itself, yet not lawfully ordained, because the ordinance commands the doing of it; whereas there are many things lawful which ought not to be done, because they are not expedient, 1 Cor. 6:12.
3. Since it cannot be a lawful ordinance which ordains a thing inexpedient, it can not be a lawful obedience which is yielded to such an ordinance.”
Pareus, David – An Oration on the Question whether the Laws of the Magistrate Oblige the Conscience (Heidelberg, 1616) 16 pp.
“I grant it is hard, because of the variety of singular actions in man’s life, to see the connection betwixt particulars of human laws and God’s laws; yet a connection there is, and for this cause the learned worthy divine, Pareus will have human laws in particulari and per se, ‘in the particular’ and ‘of themselves’ to bind the conscience. Whereas Calvin, and Beza, Junius, Tilenus, Sibrandus, Whittakerus and others deny this.” – Divine Right, Ch. 2, Question 2, pp. 206-7
Chamier, Daniel – ch. 16, ‘Whether the Laws of the Civil Magistrate Oblige the Conscience, & How Far they Oblige?’ in Panstratiae Catholicae, or a Body of the Controversies of Religion Against the Papists, vol. 5 (Church) (Frankfurt, 1627-1629), bk. 4, ‘Of the Members of the Church-Militant’
“The name of Chamier (d. 1621) is one of the greatest, not only among Calvinistic divines, but in all theological literature. His Panstratiae Catholicae (1626) is the ablest work from a Calvinistic hand in in the great Roman Catholic Controversy, and takes its general rank with books like Chemnitz’s Examen and Gerhard’s Confessio Catholica. It was prepared at the request of the Synod of Larochelle. There is no difference of opinion among competent judges as to its distinguished merits, and it is justly regarded among all Calvinists as one of the highest authorities.” – Krauth, a Lutheran, p. 47
Voet, Gisbert – 7. Of the Legislative Power of the Churches, 5th Question, Responses 2-3, pp. 795-97 in Ecclesiastical Politics (Amsterdam, 1663-1676), Vol. 4, pt. 3, bk. 4, Tract 1, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Power’
“For the Lord is our Judge; the Lord is our Lawgiver;
the Lord is our King; He will save us.”